Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My Mai

Gosh, this is FATE.

Just as I move apartments, migrating outside the North 2nd Ringroad which necessitates a change of walking habits such that I now usually go down Beiluoguxiang rather than Jiugulou Dajie when heading out for the evening,.... a new bar opens up near the north end of Beiluo.

It's barely 15 minutes' walk from my apartment (it would be a lot quicker, if the 2nd Ringroad weren't such a pain to get across). It is now the nearest bar to my apartment (well, apart from Cangku and ZuiYuefang, and a couple of little cafés - none of which are serious contenders as a 'local'). And it's good. Very, very good.

It's called Mai, and it's set in a siheyuan. The long main room has some lovely high roof beams, well restored with a dark varnish. And the little courtyard might be nice in the summer. There's a small 'private room' and a kitchen on the other two sides of the yard. The boss, a young chap called Jeff Ji, trained at a couple of the city's premier cocktail bars, so he's going to emphasise his cocktails - very well-made, and some quite unusual recipes, but affordably priced - but not get snobby about it; there'll be a good range of wines and imported bottled beers as well. It's like Apothecary, but without the pretension - and practically on my doorstep. Or... like El Nido, but with way more space to sit inside - and cocktails! This place is going to be a winner.

I discovered it by sheer good fortune - intrigued by the two tiny red lanterns hanging above an otherwise plain and inconspicuous doorway. It was just entering a week or two of 'soft opening' prior to its big launch on the first Friday of December. Jeff's a friendly guy, and eager to learn - open to feedback on everything from the cocktail recipes to the pricing. And the 'soft opening' phase wasn't really an 'opening' at all; while he was still stocking the bar and getting things shipshape, he refused to let anyone pay for anything (I tried not to take advantage of him too much). The launch party was a recklessly loss-making event too: bottled Stellas at a nominal 5 kuai and very strong Old Fashioneds for an equally ridiculous 10 kuai. Man, was I wrecked that night!

But this is a fine example of the effectiveness of spending a little money to engender customer goodwill (something Chinese entrepreneurs are often blind to). I feel so goddamned guilty and grateful for all the cheap-or-free good times he's showed me in the past few weeks that I'm now honour-bound to drop in for a last nightcap almost every time I've been out.

And Jeff's latest promotional craziness is a 'Beer Tasting' this Friday. He hasn't confirmed the details to me yet, but I think the plan is supposed to be that you can get 6 bottles of premium imported beer (not sure if it will be a specified 6, or a free choice from his extensive list) for the giveaway price of 60 rmb. Aha! It's not such a complete giveaway. He really is planning a 'tasting' - just a small glass of each beer. But then, you can get a free bottle of your favourite one at the end. 9pm start. Give Jeff a call on 13811252641 if you'd like to take part.

Hm, I wonder where I'll be this Friday....

[Mai is the Chinese word for wheat or malt, so Jeff felt it would be an apposite name for a bar that boasts an array of fine beers and single malt whiskies. Unfortunately, he picked the bizarre and rather unclassy Malteasers as the English name for the bar. I think he might be persuaded to drop that. Mai is a way cooler name, and easy to remember. That's all that's on the menu and the business cards, I think. And on the sign outside the door. (Yes, there is one now! He had a bit of a speakeasy vibe going at first: nothing to indicate that this unremarkable door was the portal to a little slice of bar heaven.)]

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